Monday, January 7, 2008

Mousechief Secures Patent on Interactive Narrative Operated by Introducing Encounter Events

A tip of the hat to Keith Nemitz, creator of the Witch's Yarn, for successfully navigating the patent world on his own. He was granted a patent for his innovative game mechanic of using nouns instead of actions to advance a story in the game. I think the most interesting part of the article are the comments at the end where the "chorus" is letting Nemitz have it for patenting his idea. Hopefully, the masses will understand that a patent is only as evil as the person holding it; Nemitz claims that he will only use his patent for good...


I had a chance to read the patent and play the game. The patent makes a big distinction between traditional games, which utilize verb-based interaction, and his present invention that uses nouns. He makes the distinction between old games where you PICK UP the axe and his model where the player selects AXE, and the game does the rest. In the Witch's Yarn, the player is presented with objects that are used to push the story forward, but the player does not know how these objects will affect the world, and the order of object choice determines the gameplay. Theoretically, the noun-based system is more dynamic because the player doesn't know what verb will attach to the noun chosen, i.e., choosing wool now may cause the witch to begin spinning, while later she might give the wool to a customer who was not there before.

Despite his assertion that there is a qualitative difference between the experiences, it seems to me that hiding the verb from the player is all that he is doing. It is well established to have multiple actions for any one in-game object depending on the timing of selection, i.e. sell the helmet at the vendor, pick up the helmet, wear the helmet when you get to the proper level, and his idea of rewinding is also not new (Prince of Persia: Sands of Time). The innovative step seems small to me: it makes me wonder, is any new game play method no matter the proximity to others patentable?

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